Mada al-Carmel’s Gender Studies Program held a workshop on the occasion of the publication of Palestinian Women's and Feminist NGOs within the 1948 Green Line, by the researcher and feminist activist Janan Abdu. Speakers at the workshop included Khawla Abu Baker, professor at Max Stern Academic College of Emek Yezreel, Himmat Zu’bi, coordinator of Mada’s Gender Studies Program, and Ms. Abdu.
Ms. Zu’bi spoke first. Noting the shortage of documentary material on Palestinian women’s activity, she said that Abdu’s research was part of the process of recording the collective memory of women, and remedying the exclusion of the their personal perspective. Zu’bi mentioned a few dilemmas relating to the NGOs’ activity, including funding and influence of policies of the funding sources, many of which held universal perspectives on the activity of the feminist organizations; the connection between the associations and the public, and the question of whether they were elitist entities; and the ties among the associations themselves.
Professor Abu Baker gave a historical survey of women’s activity and of feminist activity in Palestine and in the Arab world. She pointed out that initially, women’s organizations in Palestine engaged solely in providing services, and made no demands for social change or equality. “These organizations acted in the framework of the situation existing at the time, preserving it and recreating it. The theoretical aspects and the feminist question arose at a much later stage. In most cases, a limited, elitist group of women participated, with only a small number of activist women coming from villages and the lower class,” Abu Baker added.
Regarding Abdu’s book, Abu Baker said: “The language and concepts used in the book indicate that it was intentionally written for the Arab world. This approach requires an effort in dealing with historic details to explain the concepts and data gathered in the study…The wonderful question arising from the research is: what can we learn from these organizations? And what is the difference between these organizations and men’s organizations?”
Ms. Abdu contended that her book was critical research and an attempt to provide a presence for the “the absence of writing.” She pointed out that the research included criticism of the existing women’s organizations and feminist organizations and raised many questions, but did not necessarily provide answers. “The present research is part of a series of studies that must be done in this field; one research study on its own cannot cover the entire subject,” Abdu said. The research uses feminist tools of analysis and examines the balance of forces and their repercussions on the daily existence of the women’s and feminist organizations and on society in general. “I did not try to remove myself, and I do not contend that my voice is not present there. The research was based on Arab sources and research studies to present an alternative to the predominant Oriental perspective,” Abdu emphasized.